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Antler addict

Shed antler hunter Mike Seeber of Two harbors holds a matched pair of sheds from a buck he calls "the monarch." Seeber has found six matched pairs and three single antlers from that same buck. Forum Newspapers1 / 3
Seeber walks through a woods in mid-March searching for antlers.2 / 3
Janet Seeber displays a basket she created that incorporates a shed whitetail buck antler as a handle. Forum Newspapers3 / 3

The room is all antlers, all the time. Antlers consume nearly every square inch of wall space. Antlers are arranged on tables. They're lined up on shelves. Surplus antlers fill three bushel-size baskets on the floor.

But just to be clear as he enters the room, Mike Seeber of Two Harbors announces, "This is the antler room."

The 12-foot-by-20-foot room holds the collection of shed antlers Seeber has found over an 18-year span with the help of his father, Joe, and his mother, Janet. The room is in the basement of Joe and Janet's home just outside Two Harbors.

Seeber, 49, figures he has "several hundred" whitetail antlers. He finds about 30 each spring, on average. At 18 years, that would put the total over 500.

"I figure I have more than 70 matched sets," he says.

A matched set means he has found both sides of one set of antlers. Whitetail bucks shed their antlers each year. Seeber has found both sides of a set side by side. But sometimes, the two halves are 40 yards, 60 yards, up to a mile apart.

Antlers are distinctive from one buck to the next, though one buck's antlers through the span of his life will look much the same year after year.

The highlight of the Seebers' collection are nine years worth of antlers from the same 10-point buck - they call him "the monarch" - from 1991 through 1999. Six of those years are represented by matched pairs, three by single antlers.

Remarkably, Seeber found one antler from the monarch just two weeks ago - 17 years after the buck had dropped it. It was the second half of the buck's antlers from 1993.

"I knew right away it was his," Seeber said. "It's faded and has some green moss on it, but it's in pretty good shape."

Not alone

The Seebers are among thousands of shed-antler hunters who spend hours and hours from late winter through spring each year combing public and private property for the glint of antlers.

The pastime has grown dramatically.

"When we first started looking, in the late '80s, there was hardly anybody looking," Seeber said. "You could pretty much go anywhere and find some antlers. Now, everywhere I go, there's tracks. ...

"It's unbelievable. I go through the thick stuff. I try to go places no one else goes. But there are guys as passionate as me."

He knows. He sees their bootprints in the snow.

One place Seeber hasn't hunted for the past three years is in Duluth. Competition has become so intense on public land in the city that this winter, shed pickers were walking the snow crust at night wearing headlamps just to get a jump on other hunters.

Unlike some shed hunters who sell many of their antlers, Seeber has nearly all the antlers he has ever found. He just likes having them, looking at them, remembering the days he found them.

Spring hunt

On an afternoon in mid-March, with the snow now melted, Seeber cruises among popples and balsam firs, his eyes darting across the forest floor.

This is his 16th time out this year. Already this spring, he has found 21 sheds.

Today, he's looking specifically for "half a 10" -- one side of a 10-point set of antlers. The first half is at his home, on a table. He moves along in camouflage clothing and knee-high boots, at a pace faster than you might think.

"I find them in pretty much all areas," he says. "Along the roads, creek ravines, where they [bucks] have to jump over obstacles. I've found antlers under old rubs, where they go to check scent. Bedding areas are good spots, and, of course, cedar swamps."

As he hunts, Seeber comes across various other items shed by society. A shed metal bucket. A shed deflated basketball. A shed ketchup bottle. He nudges them with a boot toe just to verify their identities and moves on.

"You never know what you're going to find," Joe Seeber says. "I had a mother bear one spring really mad at me."

On a roll

On each of his past four hunts, Mike Seeber has found at least one antler. That's a nice streak. Now, after more than an hour with no antlers spotted, Mike stops in his tracks.

"There it is," he cries.

The dark curve of the antler's main beam hides under strands of tawny grass not far from a lone balsam fir. Seeber goes to it, extracts it carefully from the grass.

It turns out not to be the half-a-10 he's seeking, but it's a decent half-a-10.

Seeber walks off, hefting it in his hand.

"Wow," he says. "Good deal."

Within 15 minutes, he finds two more. One is a bleached half-six, the other a small half-an-eight from the fall of 2008. At each find, Seeber becomes like a small child who has found one last present hidden beneath the Christmas tree.

He says he feels relaxed when he's shed hunting.

"And if I find an antler, it's an adrenaline rush," he says.

He figures the activity is good for his health, too.

"Since the first week of February, I've shed eight pounds," he says.

He pauses long enough in his hunting to stow all of the antlers in his daypack.

He's a happy man.

"My hot streak is still going," he says.

Angling for antlers

White-tailed deer shed their antlers each year, usually in late December and early January, said Bob Kirsch, Two Harbors area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

"Particularly in a northern climate where you have tough winters, the antlers are more for some type of reproductive display purposes," Kirsch said. "There's not a lot of reason to be carrying a lot of weight on their heads through the winter. It's more of an energy-saving thing."

Some bucks hold their antlers longer than others.

"I saw a buck run across [Minnesota Highway] 61 on the Duluth side of Two Harbors in March," Kirsch said. "That's pretty atypical."

Genetics and nutrition are the main factors that determine how large a buck's antlers will grow, he said.

Bucks begin growing new antlers in early summer. They remain soft or "in velvet" through the summer, then grow hard in fall before mating season in November.